The Charlotte Hornets have catapulted into the top of a now shaken Eastern Conference. With LeBron James bolting from the palm trees, random showers and sandy beaches of Miami, the conference has essentially been turned upside down.
The Miami Heat have fallen from the top spot of the conference down further into the pack while the Cleveland Cavaliers have jumped from the draft lottery into the top of the conference. That’s what getting a top player in the league can do for you.
But even with the Cavaliers as a potential top three seed next season, they still have questions like every other team in the conference. Can Kyrie Irving defend at a passable level? Will Andrew Wiggins eventually turn into Kevin Love? Can the youth on their squad develop quickly enough to win a title now? Those are just a few questions that come with the acquisition of James. But at the same time, James can remedy all of those questions just as easily as he created them.
As for the rest of the conference, there have been power shifting moves everywhere.
Chris Bosh took a five year, $118 million dollar max deal to stay with the Miami Heat instead of leaving for Houston. He and an in-shape Dwyane Wade will keep them afloat in the conference.
The Washington Wizards turned the loss of Trevor Ariza into depth in other places. They’ve acquired Paul Pierce who, even this late in his career, appears to be a more versatile threat than Ariza with his ball handling capability and his ability to thrive in the clutch.
The Chicago Bulls signed the best player in European basketball in Nikola Mirotic and appear to have drafted really well with the selection of Doug McDermott. With shooting and floor spacing, their offense should take off even if Derrick Rose plays at 70% of his MVP capability. They’ll be a much improved team on the offensive end even with new pieces around them.
Everyone at the top of the conference made moves that made sense and sought out players that fit stylistically. Even in losing Lance Stephenson, the Pacers found outside shooting that they were desperate for last season. They acquired CJ Miles who, at the age of 27, has become a capable floor spacer in today’s NBA. They’ve signed Croatian shooting big man Damjan Rudez to their roster. And they’re moving to replace Stephenson’s creation with the ball by signing Rodney Stuckey to a one year minimum deal.
Those moves are both cost effective and could potentially make them a better team. None of those players are as good as Stephenson individually. His two-way floor game was essential for what the Pacers wanted to do. The Pacers were already a bad three point shooting team without Stephenson and they barely took any. The Pacers only took 1542 three point attempts last season. That would’ve been a lot ten years ago, but last year that ranked 25th in the entire NBA. Adding a gunner like Miles will change that and so should the addition of Rudez, but their three point attempts are going to be harder to create now.
Frank Vogel is going to have to get far more creative to keep the Pacers’ offense from being one of the worst in the league. Through the last 30 games of the season, the Pacers offense only scored 100.2 points per 100 possessions–a mark just ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Lance brought them offensive stability in a creative way. He was their best ball handler in transition and pick and roll situations. Even though he got a bit wild with his transition play, he was effective at finding a lane to the rim and taking advantage of back-peddling defenders. The Pacers needed Lance Stephenson to play that way because otherwise they’d have a worse offense than Philadelphia.
Now that the Hornets have Stephenson, they should move into the six man race to get a top four seed in the conference. The Cavs, Pacers, Heat, Bulls, Wizards and Hornets are all running in a tight race at this point. It could potentially come down to the wire between these teams and they’ll need every advantage they can get. But out of all of those teams, the Hornets have the most bust potential.
Stephenson did the right thing. A three year, $27 million dollar deal with the Hornets is the best thing he could’ve possibly gotten. It’s a good deal for the Hornets with a team option in the third year. It’s a way better deal for Stephenson than the five year, $44 million dollar deal that the Pacers put on the table for him. It’s fiscally responsible for both sides and Stephenson will be able to, again, test his value on the market before the age of 28.
The Hornets get another ball handler to place beside Kemba Walker and relieve him of his ball handling duties a bit. Stephenson may be a head case at times, but his on-court skill is undeniable.
Stephenson is a peculiar fit offensively, though. The biggest need for Charlotte was another offensive threat outside of Walker and Al Jefferson, but they needed one that could shoot the ball. The Bobcats were a worse three point shooting team than the Pacers last season. They only attempted 1471 threes throughout the year and shot 35% from deep. The three ball is the mark of a good offensive team in today’s NBA, and the Bobcats didn’t have it last season.
The Hornets will have a new three point threat in Marvin Williams, and if PJ Hairston can stay on the floor he should help in that area too. But Stephenson’s best attributes don’t plainly stick out as things that this team needs. Stephenson is a very good cutter, but the team still has a lack of creativity as far as passing goes. Al Jefferson isn’t the high post passer that Josh McRoberts was and Kemba Walker isn’t the most creative passer at this point, either.
Stephenson is not a floor spacer, despite posting a solid percentage from deep last season. He shot almost 50% from the field last season and 35% from deep, but his shooting from deep is a bit skewed.
Really, Stephenson was good at shooting from only one area–the right corner of the floor. To be exact, he’s shooting nearly 60% from that spot. To be a floor spacer, you should be a threat from more than one area. It makes it a simple task taking you away from your one spot if that’s all you truly have.
Stephenson is average from the top of the arch and from the left wing, but that isn’t going to make teams guard him as a three point threat. He can improve in this area, but right now he’s not the shooting threat that he needs to be if he’s going to share ball handling duty with Walker.
Stephenson is a great addition for Charlotte, but things need to go exactly right for them to reap the benefits immediately. The bottom line is that this is a good deal for both sides with an opt-out in the third year. If things don’t work, Stephenson can be traded. He’s young–only 23 years old. He’ll continue to improve. The Hornets made an upgrade, regardless of what happens.